Former Bulgarian Mayor and football legend, Yordan Lechkov, photo by Maria Sabotinova
In our country, for the time being, “conflict of interest” is a rather imaginary concept. Bulgaria is small and nepotism is wide-spread, still it is strange when a mayor awards a concession to his sister or himself. Such is the situation with the signing of the concession for the stadium “Hadzi Dimitar” and part of the park “Yunak” in the city Sliven.
The story began during the term of Mayor Ivan Slavov. Resolution № 827, from April 3, 2003, gave a green light to the opening of the procedure for the concession of the football stadium in Sliven and part of the park around it. In June that year, civil (nonprofit) association “Sport Palace” submitted a bid. The Association is registered in Sliven. One of its owners was MM9 Ltd. (United Identification Code in the Trade Registry 829 046 199), managed at the time by Diana Lekova Dimitova. The second owner of “Sport Palace” was the municipal football Club Sliven – 2000 (United Identification Code 119 511 223), managed by Yordan Lechkov Yankov.
Concession for Half a Century
The civil association “Sport Palace” was the winning bidder in the tender and was selected as concessionaire of the stadium. The terrain was given to it on concession for 30 years with an option to extend the period to 50 years. The company has been registered under the Responsibilities and Contracts Act with a particular subject of activity – concession of stadium “Hadzi Dimitar.” The Municipal Council adopted decision № 959 from July 31, 2003, which approved the bidder that was ranked first. Famous football boss, Ivaylo Drazhev, from the Black Sea city of Burgas, was ranked second. The councilors authorized Mayor Ivan Slavov to sign the contract under the clauses of the tender. According to participants in the Selection Committee, Slavov strongly opposed giving the stadium on concession, but was intensely pressured by former Sliven mayor and Member of the Parliament at the time, Asen Gagauzov. Slavov took leave before the elections and did not sign the contract. Deputy Mayor Radostin Koychev did not sign the concession contract as well. At this point, Lechkov was already running for mayor of the city.
New Mayor – Old concession
On November 2, 2003, Yordan Lechkov Yankov was elected Mayor of Sliven. He won by 900 votes, cast in the Roma district “Nadezhda,” in whose polling section the turnout was the highest around 9 pm due to the large gathering of late voters. At the beginning of Lechkov’s term, hundreds of thousands of levs were slated to repair the stadium. The concession contract had not yet been signed, but the related to Lechkov Association “Sport Palace,” registered under the Responsibilities and Contracts Act, was the winning bidder and began using the stadium. Accelerated construction works were launched; renovations were carried out; offices and locker rooms were designed and built. Flooring was replaced. According to insiders, the amount of money “invested” in the municipal stadium “Hadzi Dimitar,” immediately before the signing of the concession contract, exceeded 1 million levs. In reality, the Sliven Municipality was pouring money into a facility that was destined to be operated by the civil association of Yordan Lechkov and his sister. Offices and a studio for radio “Focus,” which, since 2004 until now, occupies for free the newly constructed stadium tower, were built as well.
On November 4, 2004, more than a year after the municipal council has approved the winning bidder of concession, the contract between the civil association “Sport Palace” and the Sliven Municipality was finally concluded. But the situation has changed because the Sliven Municipality, represented by Yordan Lechkov, signed a contract with a civil association in which participated…Yordan Lechkov, himself. Is there a conflict of interest in this situation? Wasn’t the right thing to do for him and his relatives to leave “Sport Palace” once he was elected mayor? And if Lechkov remained in the civil association, isn’t it logical to give up the mayoral office?
At the end, the contract was signed by Lechkov’s Deputy, Rumen Andonov, who is now deputy mayor of Gen Nikola Milev, elected on the ticked of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). Several months later, Lechkov released Andonov from office. Prosecutors found no conflict of interest in this situation. Obviously, for them, Yordan Lechkov authorizing his deputy to sign on behalf of the municipality a concession contract with himself and his sister is not a problem. The National Audit Office conducted a probe as well and found no conflict of interest.
Before Bivol, Yordan Lechkov also declared that there was no conflict of interest, since in 2004 there was no such law:
“The football club was registered as nonprofit. And I was the mayor. According to the law, I should transfer my business, whether to my wife or my sister. Anyway, my wife and I were the owners of the football club 100%. There was no way I could give up the concession. When we signed the contracts, I, as mayor, took leave, so that my deputy could sign, and he had the right to replace me. I was also president of the football club. This was 2004. There was no law on conflict of interest then. The law was passed in 2007 or 2008, when we joined the EU,” explained the former football player.
The full interview with Yordan Lechkov read in the next publication, which deals with the Sliven cleaning contract.
This post is also available in: Bulgarian